How the Cincinnati Bearcats became legitimate CFP contenders

They might try to convince you otherwise, but it's safe to assume that no one involved in Cincinnati's late-2016 coaching search truly knew they were getting this in Luke Fickell.

After a quick downward slide in the final season of Tommy Tuberville's flaky tenure, the Bearcats were looking for stability and direction. They made just about the most logical hire imaginable: a defensive coordinator from a local powerhouse (Ohio State) and a guy who knows the recruiting terrain well.

Granted, Fickell's only experience as a head coach was not exactly a strong point on the résumé -- as a full-year interim at Ohio State following Jim Tressel's sudden resignation in late May 2011, he steered the Buckeyes to their only losing record in the past 33 seasons. But those situations never go particularly well, and it wasn't a deal-breaker. Fickell had played for one immensely successful Buckeyes coach (John Cooper) and coached under two others (Tressel and Urban Meyer), and ... again, recruiting, recruiting, recruiting. Fickell hit all the proper notes in his introductory news conference, shooting out all the key phrases -- "blue collar," "hardworking," etc. -- and the Immediate Coaching Hire Grades industry graded the hire well.

Still, we had no idea.